Berger, who was Jewish, was born on July 12, 1923, in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, to Louis (a furrier) and Rebecca Berger. As a boy, he collected baseball cards, traded them and won some from friends by flipping for them. He served in the Army Air Forces in World War II and later graduated from Bucknell University with an accounting degree. While in college, Berger met Joel Shorin, son of Philip Shorin, one of the founders of Topps.
Berger died on December 14, 2014, aged 91, at home in Rockville Centre, New York. He is survived by his wife of 69 years (Gloria Karpf Berger), three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Berger's first day at Topps was also the first day that Topps began to produce Bazooka Gum. In the autumn of 1951, Berger, then aged 28, designed the 1952 Topps baseball card set with Woody Gelman on the kitchen table of his apartment on Alabama Avenue in Brooklyn. The card design included a player's name, photo, facsimile autograph, team name and logo on the front; and the player's height, weight, bats, throws, birthplace, birthday, stats and a short biography on the back. The basic design is still in use today. Berger would work for Topps for 50 years (1947–97), achieve the position of vice-president of sports & licensing, and serve as a consultant for another five, becoming a well-known figure on the baseball scene and the face of Topps to major league baseball players, whom he signed up annually and paid in merchandise, like refrigerators and carpeting.
In 1960, because "nobody wanted the stuff" and Topps needed the storage space, Berger had the equivalent of three garbage trucks full of 1952 Topps baseball cards loaded onto a barge. The barge was tugged a few miles, and the cards were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.
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His wife, Gloria Berger, said he suffered respiratory distress at home after having been released from a hospital for treatment of pneumonia.
- Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, p. 94, Dave Jamieson, 2010, Atlantic Monthly Press, imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc., New York, NY, ISBN 978-0-8021-1939-1
- Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, p. 90, Dave Jamieson, 2010, Atlantic Monthly Press, imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc., New York, NY, ISBN 978-0-8021-1939-1
- Lidz, Franz (May 25, 1981). "In Bubble-gum Cards, Topps Is Still Tops, But No Longer Unchallenged". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2014.
- "Honoring Sy Berger on his induction into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on April 29, 2012". Resolution J3425-2011. New York Senate. 1 March 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
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- Chamberlain, Ryan (14 December 2014) [First published July-August 2004]. "SABR Nine: Sy Berger". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved 8 January 2015.